POST 18: AUSTRALIA’S VISA SYSTEM IS IN DISARRAY.

Introduction.

There are now major concerns with Australia’s visa processing system. Since July 2012 Australia’s visa applications have been managed through SkillSelect, an online skilled migration mechanism.[1] This enables foreign nationals from overseas and onshore Australia to make an expression of interest (EOI) online. Then the prospective migrant waits to receive an invitation to apply for a visa. This can be employer-sponsored visa or a State nominated visa (permanent or temporary) or from the Federal government.[2] In 2018-19 ninety five per cent of permanent and temporary visa applications were lodged online.[3] In addition to SkillSelect there is also a digital service portal, ImmiAccount, which enables foreign nationals to lodge and pay for a wide range of visa applications online (over 90 visa types). In 2018-19 Australian ImmiAccounts climbed by 28% on the previous year reaching a staggering figure of 10 million accounts.[4]It is the sheer scale and volume of the online visa system, which is now being called into question. How can the Government manage this volume of applications securely for the Australian community? And what impact is this huge inflow of people having on State government infrastructure and services?

Australia’s visa application’s security concerns.

The Department of Home Affairs Annual Report reveals a massive 8.8 million visas where granted in 2018-19. Over half of these are visitor visas and nearly 2 million where New Zealand visas. A significant 377,469 temporary and permanent visas where refused—an increase of 22 per cent on 2017–18— while 943 people had their visas cancelled on character grounds.[5] With this level of refusals and cancellations surely the soundness of Australia’s visa system must come under greater scrutiny by the Federal government and the opposition. Unfortunately it is not. The very high number of cancellations and refusals carried out may only tell part of the story? In 2017-18 the Department’s migration report stated: “There is now a higher proportion of high-risk cases across our programs, with applications lodged by individuals with complex immigration histories, including extensive travel histories, unsuccessful visa applications and/or periods of being unlawful in Australia. These require increased scrutiny, including more character and bona fides checks to ensure that the Australian community is protected”.[6]

NON- Irregular Maritime Arrivals: A Political time bomb for the Federal Liberal Coalition.

To assess Australia’s defective visa system in more detail it is worth exploring the blow out in foreign nationals arriving by plane and applying for Protections Visas (PVs). According to Abul Rizvi a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration – the record number of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian visitors seeking asylum is in particular need of scrutiny. [7] Rizvi goes on to suggest that people smugglers are flying vulnerable people in on visitor visas and then applying for asylum on their behalf in order to secure work rights.[8] And calling for urgent attention he argues that the Australian government must crack down on the people running the asylum scams out of Malaysia and China.[9] Given the urgency in which Australian governments moved to stop the flow of Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) by sea. It is baffling that there is a muted response to the massive increase in Non–Irregular Maritime Arrivals (Non-IMAs) arriving by air (see Table 1 below).

Table 1: Non-IMAs arriving in Australia by air, 2014-15 to 2018-19
[table id=33 /]
(Source: Australian Government Department of Home Affairs,[10])

Table 1 reveals the increase in Non-IMAs by air since 2014-15 has been substantial peaking at 52.7% in 2017-18. The total number of Non-IMAs over the five years span in Table 1 amounts to 92,071. In comparison the number of Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) that arrived in Australia by boat from (1976 to 2016 a span of 40 years) is estimated at 70,242.[11] This puts the large number of recent Non -IMAs in perspective. This is now a serious immigration and security issue.

What is happening with this large number of air arrivals?

The suggestion that people smugglers are flying vulnerable people to Australia and then applying for asylum on their behalf seems to hold up when reviewing the Non-IMAs failure rate. In 2018–19 (due to the backlog in PV lodgement decisions) only 14,699 of the PV applications where vetted, resulting in a significant rate of protection visa refusals at (89%).[12] The security concern for the Australian public is that in the past five years alone a substantial 82,527 foreign arrivals have been unable to obtain protection visas. Table 1 above demonstrates that the Australian government is not having much success at stemming the flow of Non-IMAs. But where are those large numbers of protection visa failures going? Are they travelling back to their countries many of which are much less developed than Australia?

 Table 2 below reveals the nationalities of the protection visa applicants over a two-year period. And it does highlight why there is a growing concern that Malaysian and Chinese nationals are operating as people smugglers from their regions.[13] Those two countries made up the majority of foreign nationals lodging protection visa claims (67%) in 2017-18 and (52.5%) in 2018-19. The percentage of successful protection visa grants for Malaysian nationals was the lowest of all at 1% with Chinese nationals not much better at a 4% success rate.[14]

Table 2: NON-IMAs protection visa lodgements by country of origin.
[table id=35 /]
(Source: Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.[15])

 Now is not the time to privatise Australia’s visa system.

With such a  large number of dubious visa claims in Australia, the Immigration department will have to be vigilant in checking overseas applications. Now is surely not the time to privatise the application process to reduce costs. It is a major concern that the Federal government have decided to privatise the visa application process, consolidating three visa call centres into a single onshore contractor.[16]

How will the increase in Non-IMAs impact West Australia?

Perhaps the big increase in Non IMAs entering Australia by plane from China will have an impact in Western Australia. The West Australian Labor Party’s close relationship with Communist China has just been rewarded with a direct flight from Shanghai to Perth with plenty of Chinese tourist’s set to arrive in Perth.[17]

References.

[1] Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship, ‘Annual Report 2012-13’, 2013 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/reports-and-publications/reports/annual-reports> [accessed 9 November 2019].

[2] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Skillselect’, 2019 <https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/working-in-australia/skillselect> [accessed 7 November 2019].

[3] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Annual Report 2018-19.’, 2019 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/reports-and-publications/reports/annual-reports> [accessed 7 November 2019].

[4] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Annual Report 2018-19.’

[5] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Annual Report 2018-19.’

[6] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘2017-18 Migration Program Report’, 2018 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-statistics/statistics/visa-statistics/live/migration-program> [accessed 2 September 2019].

[7] Abul Rizvi, ‘Department of Dysfunction’, Inside Story, 2019 <https://insidestory.org.au/department-of-dysfunction/> [accessed 9 November 2019].

[8] Abul Rizvi.

[9] Abul Rizvi.

[10] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Onshore Humanitarian Program’, 2019 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-statistics/statistics/visa-statistics/live/humanitarian-program> [accessed 10 November 2019].

[11] Janet Phillips, ‘Boat Arrivals and Boat “Turnbacks” in Australia since 1976: A Quick Guide to the Statistics’, Parliament of Australia, 2017 <https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/BoatTurnbacks> [accessed 10 May 2019].

[12] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Annual Report 2018-19.’

[13] Abul Rizvi.

[14] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Australia’s Offshore Humanitarian Program: 2018–19’, 2019 <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-statistics/statistics/visa-statistics/live/humanitarian-program> [accessed 9 November 2019].

[15] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Onshore Humanitarian Program’.

[16] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘Annual Report 2018-19.’

[17] Nathan Hondros, ‘Behind the Silk Veil: What the Chinese Consul-General’s Letter Doesn’t Say to WA’, WAtoday, 2019 <https://www.watoday.com.au/politics/western-australia/behind-the-silk-veil-what-the-chinese-consul-general-s-letter-doesn-t-say-to-wa-20191111-p539kv.html> [accessed 12 November 2019].

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